You finally found time to get started on that paper, but you can’t seem to focus. Your brain feels like it is swimming in a cloud, and your energy is so low that you must fight to keep your eyes open. Feeling tired and mentally foggy is frustrating, especially for the busy online student who may be juggling more than just course load. But the solution to a more focused brain will come when you make a shift in your food choices. It’s as easy as 0, 1, 2, 3. 

Foods contain three major nutrients that can be broken down and used for energy, namely carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Of those three, carbohydrates are the easiest nutrient to convert to energy, so they are considered the primary source of fuel for your body. And they often become the go-to for busy online students. But not all carbs are created equal. Plants make carbohydrates, so we see that natural foods like vegetables, fruits, and grains contain carbohydrates. But, those whole foods can be refined and turned into treats like cookies, cakes, and candies. 

Refined treats still contain the carbs but lack the beneficial fiber and micronutrients of the original plant. Your digestive tract breaks down all carbohydrates into sugar which can be transported to your cells and used as energy. When you eat a refined carbohydrate, your body easily extracts sugar from the food giving you a quick surge of energy and a feeling of being mentally alert. However, that quick sugar rush is followed by a sudden crash taking away any energy and mental clarity that you had gained. There goes your post-work, put-the-kids-to-bed study session.

How Sugar Affects the Brain 

In her TED-Ed lesson on how sugar affects the brain, Nicole Avena explains how sugar acts like a drug, robbing you of your ability to stay focused and feel in control. According to Avena, when you eat whole foods in their natural state (as you would do when eating a salad or steamed vegetables), the carbohydrates in your meal break down slowly. Your digestive system must work hard to extract the sugar from vegetables because it is locked in the fibrous structures of the plant. That slow digestion drips sugar into your body giving you a sustained level of energy and alertness that lasts for hours.

What is the 0, 1, 2, 3 Strategy?

Your performance in the online classroom will improve when you get off the energy-zapping rollercoaster of refined carbs, and the 0, 1, 2, 3 Strategy will help you achieve that goal. The numbers in the strategy act as a mnemonic and stand for:

  • 0 sugar
  • 1 large salad
  • 2 cups of cooked, non-starchy vegetables 
  • 3 hours before bed, stop eating 

By folding these four habits into your daily meals, you eliminate the energy crash that follows eating sugar, and you fill your body with slow-digesting vegetables that drip energy into your system for hours. 

What Are the Benefits of the 0, 1, 2, 3 Strategy?

The 0, 1, 2, 3 Strategy is simple to understand and can be easy to follow with a few time-saving tricks that are perfect for busy students. For instance, many grocery stores have salad bars where you can put together a great tasting salad in minutes. Eating two cups of vegetables at night is as easy as putting a bag of frozen vegetables in the microwave for eight minutes. Food prep also goes a long way when you need time to work, study, lead the family, and plan for healthy eating.

Breaking free from the addictive pull of sugar can be challenging, but the volume of vegetables you’ll be eating when you follow the 0, 1, 2, 3 Strategy will fill your stomach, which puts you in control of hunger. And, declaring an end to your eating three hours before bed eliminates mindless, late-night snacking on sugary snacks and refined carbs.

Additionally, when you stop eating three hours before bed, you give your digestive system time to process the food from dinner, which allows your body’s core temperature to drop. According to Dr. Satchin Panda, who is a leading expert in diet and the circadian rhythm, a lower core temperature aids in your ability to sleep soundly throughout the night. That restful and restorative sleep contributes to your energy level and mental clarity the next day.

So, if you are looking for an edge that will boost your productivity in the classroom, give the 0, 1, 2, 3 Strategy a try. It is a simple, healthy-eating strategy that will lead to more energy and mental clarity.


Written by Becky Gillaspy, DC, a former instructor at Global Campus, nutritionist, entrepreneur and founder of  

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